Writing A Long, Yet Attention-Retaining Statement of Purpose (SOP)

Afnan Mostafa
5 min readJan 14, 2021

A Statement of Purpose (SOP) can be referred to as a document including all the blanket statements about an applicant’s life story. In other words, an SOP encompasses every relevant positives-and-negatives of the applicant’s academic life. An SOP, otherwise known as the Statement of Intent or Academic Statement, can be one, two, or three pages in length. The page-limit, ultimately, depends on the university or grad school that you are applying to; the lower the limit, the more concise and succinct your SOP has to be to cover all relevant minutiae in a single page. On the contrary, the longer your SOP is, the more difficult it is to hold the reader’s attention. So, it is a trade-off between holding the reader’s attention and your freedom to write to your satisfaction without missing out on any significant detail.

Longer SOP = More detailed; freedom of writing
Shorter SOP = Succinct, concise; less freedom of writing

Thumb Rule:

Personal life events, somewhat unrelated to your academic life, should go into your PS (Personal Statement)
Personal life events related to your academic life should go into your SOP (Statement of Purpose)

A Small, Yet Super-Powerful Caveat:

If your intended university asks for one document (either SOP or PS):
if your grad school requires only one document (say, SOP), then you can include your personal life story relevant to your academic life in your SOP. Similarly, if you are required to submit only a Personal Statement (PS), then in addition to including your stories unrelated to your academic life, you can also add the contents that you would have included in your SOP to your Personal Statement. In this case, the terms, Personal Statement and Statement of Purpose, are used interchangeably.
If your intended university asks for two documents (both SOP and PS):
Otherwise, if they ask you to submit two separate documents (a Statement of Purpose/Intent or an academic statement, and a Personal Statement), then you have to avoid including personal stories unrelated to your academic life in your SOP, rather you can add them to your Personal Statement and make two distinct documents in terms of contents. With that being said, always try to make logical connections between the two documents. The reader should never feel “Oh! I just read this story in the applicant’s Personal Statement; why is it here again?” while reading your SOP. Always go through the pointers for writing SOPs provided on the university website before jumping onto your SOP so as to get a holistic view of what exact questions are needed to be answered in your SOP.

Let’s start with how to start your SOP. There is no hard and fast rule for SOP-writing; you can start with your undergrad life, then move on to how a course or two sparked a zest inside you to go for graduate studies. Or, you can start with why this particular university is the best-suited option for you. Whichever method you opt for, you need to make meaningful transitions between the paras, and they must contain coherence in it.

Prioritizing One’s Motive:

A snippet of my short PS/SOP

Prioritizing One’s Life-Story:

A snippet of my long PS/SOP

Personal Opinion:

It is a good practice to avoid bold words in official documents since it is considered rude in some communities. I just used it, but it is not an official document; so it’s no biggie. Jokes aside, the italic form is way respectful than the bold form for official documents. Also, avoid underlining any words while writing your SOP.

Some SOP-hacks:

[1] Try Avoiding Negative Words/Sentences:

Instead of writing “I had a poor GPA for the first few semesters of my undergraduate study which, however, does not reflect upon my academic transcript as my major GPA is good.”, you can express the situation in this way, “Due to unwanted circumstances and the-then limited awareness to the repercussions of my academics, I had to work hard to do justice to my academic transcript, where a sudden jump of my GPA is clearly visible after the 4th semester. This jump, although not the best-case scenario, has been acting as my motivator and booster to move even further in the years to come.”

[2] Include Causal Relationships:

Causal relations can hold a reader’s attention very well since there is always a why-did-this-happen-though question in the reader’s mind. For example, “Due to limited opportunities for conducting experimental research on sophisticated topics in my country, I had to restrict my research to simulation only for which I could not validate my results.” This sentence reflects a causal relationship between why I had to check my research to computer-based only and the reason lies in the first part of the sentence.

[3] Don’t Overflow Your SOP With Details:

Don’t inundate your SOP with minute details, rater try to highlight a few factors with which you can keep yourself in the spotlight. Ignore including every course that you attended during your undergraduate and mention a few key courses which helped you determine the reason behind your interest in higher studies.

[4] Include Short-Duration Incidents/Motivators:

If possible, try to include a few stories related to your academics to make your SOP more convincing. Say, I have attached a snippet of my SOP where I shared one of my motivators for research.

Inspiration towards research

[5] Mention Both Long-term and Short-term Goals:

While writing goals, you should mention your long-term goals and short-term goals. More importantly. you must make a connection between them so as to make them synergized.

Mentioning goals

Finishing with a Stunner:

To end your SOP/PS, you need to have a stunning sentence or para so that it leaves the reader with a respectful and optimistic opinion on you when he/she is about to move on to reading the next applicant’s document; like this:

The epilogue of my UC Merced Statement of Purpose

Or this:

The epilogue of my UC Merced Personal Statement

The more time you spend on editing your SOP, the more accurate and convincing it will become as time progresses- guaranteed.

I will try to write an article on how to edit your SOP without using a Grammarly premium account- yes, that’s possible and I did that to get an overall score over 90 every time on my SOP. Until then, take care.